The agro-food sector and peri-urban rural areas are changing. Food chains industrialize and globalize. In the rural areas in the vicinity of urban metropolis space becomes scarce and it has many ‘owners’. Farmers look for new roads in the tension between the demands of the international food chains and the local requirements concerning nature and the environment. The structural changes in the scarcity of products, energy, space and nature lead to fundamental changes in the views on the role of agriculture in urban areas. This implies long term societal change. In such transitions stakeholders like consumers, citizens, policy makers and farmers change their views on their own role and contribution to the problems and the solutions. Sometimes new stakeholders enter the arena. In the context of North-west European agriculture this can be illustrated by discussions on zoning restrictions to keep rural areas open, on animal welfare and experiments with community farming. Farmers develop new farm systems, large scale as well as catering for new demands like tourism, cultural heritage, local products or health care. New stakeholders like health insurance companies, restaurant chains and energy companies enter the arena. Agricultural ministries change their name, reorganise research and education and change agricultural policies to contribute to a more sustainable agriculture. Such transitions challenge scientists to make the changes in policy, institutions and behaviour visible, understandable and –if possible- also applicable in developing creative ideas for system innovations in products, production processes and collaborations. That is not easy, also as the transitions change the knowledge system itself.
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